India, Rajasthan and Varanasi
India, like marmite, you'll either love or hate it!
As my last tour comes to an end, I’ve been saying a silent farewell to the perplexing place that is India and reflecting over our four-month relationship. It’s been short but intense – a feeling that every visitor will experience at some point during their stay in this continent. I’ve seen more love and devotion, simplicity and contentment, beauty and smiles, music and dancing, colour and energy, intrigue and curiosity, strength and determination, culture and tradition, poverty and hardship, frenzy and chaos, serenity and peace, the bizarre and ridiculous, magic and mystery, than I thought possible in the world – let alone one country. For a destination I originally had no interest in visiting – India has managed to touch me deeply.
One day I walked my group to the Taj and sat myself down to wait for them to return. For two hours random people sat next to me or stood around me and stared and it wasn’t just one or two people subtlety looking – I was literally surrounded and glared at! Four months ago I would have found this staring unsettling and alien, but it has actually become one of my favourite Indian customs! I’ve realised there is nothing threatening or aggressive about the intensity of the look – it is just simple curiosity. In the West we are told staring is rude – but in India the openness of the people inspires them to act as they feel rather than as they have been conditioned to behave. The answer to the stares? Tilt your head slightly to the side (as a greeting and acknowledgment) and watch with amusement as the gesture is mirrored by the people around you. It makes me chuckle every time!
I have come to love so many things about India and have had memorable moments every single day. In Rajasthan – a place that can be so aptly described by just one word – colour – I challenge anyone not to fall in love with the vivid clothing, verdant valleys, fantastic jewellery and welcoming people. After all how can you not be drawn into a state which has a blue city, a pink city and a golden city?
If Rajasthan is India’s colour, Varanasi is its true essence, You cannot experience a more ‘Indian’ city – in the way Westerners perceive India to be. If you imagine an overwhelming mix of people, cows, rickshaws, markets, smells, colour, noise, poverty, litter, begging, temples and the holy Ganges, then Varanasi is your India. Everything and anything happens at the Ghats (steps) of the ‘Ganga’ – it is the very reason why pilgrims gather, tourists explore and the old or ill make their way to its banks. I found it amazing to see people bathing, clothes being washed and massage and boat trips offered along side Hindu cremations, dramatic prayer services and the constant meandering of cows, dogs and goats……Varanasi has it all!!!!
Travel in 2001